Turtle sanctuaries in Nungwi
Mnarani Natural Aquarium
Hawksbill turtles have traditionally been hunted around Zanzibar for their attractive shells, and green turtles for their meat. In 1993, with encouragement and assistance from various conservation bodies and some dedicated marine biologists, the local community opened the Mnarani Natural Aquarium (open 09.00–18.00 daily).
In the shadow of the lighthouse ('Mnarani' meaning 'place of the lighthouse' in Swahili), at the northernmost tip of Zanzibar Island, the aquarium was created around a large, natural, tidal pool in the coral rock behind the beach. Originally set up to rehabilitate and study turtles that had been caught in fishing nets, the aquarium project expanded to ensure that local baby turtles were also protected.
Turtles frequently nest on Nungwi Beach, and village volunteers now mark and monitor new nests. The resulting hatchlings are carried to small plastic basins and small concrete tanks at the aquarium where they remain for ten months. By this time, they have grown to ten inches and their chances of survival at sea are dramatically increased. All bar one of these turtles are then released into the sea, along with the largest turtle from the aquarium pool. The one remaining baby turtle is then added to the pool ensuring a static population of 17 turtles.
In September 2005, this equated to four hawksbills (Swahili: ng'amba), identified by the jagged edge on their shell, sharper beak and sardine diet, and 13 seaweed-loving green turtles (Swahili: kasakasa). The aquarium manager, Mr Mataka Kasa, keeps a log book detailing all eggs, hatchlings and releases. On 5 June 2005, the sanctuary released its first tagged turtle, as part of a worldwide monitoring programme.
In spite of the aquarium being little more than a glorified rock pool, it's fascinating to see the turtles at close quarters. Further, the money raised secures the project's future, and goes towards local community schemes – in a bid to demonstrate the tangible value of turtle conservation to the local population. With luck, this will lessen the trade in souvenir shell products and ensure the species' survival.
On a practical note, when timing your visit, the water is clearest about two hours before high tide (Swahili: maji kujaa).
Baraka's Turtle Aquarium
Owned by Mr Baraka, of Baraka's Bungalows on West Beach, this aquarium (AQUABA 5º43.443'S; 39º18.227'E; rates: US$2 daily) is signposted at a bend in the road, on the way to the East Beach area. It recently opened in direct competition with the long-established sanctuary scheme at neighbouring Mnarani Natural Aquarium. Although it has a lovely tidal pool, and the 15 resident green turtles appear to be well fed and healthy, this is fundamentally a business and not a conservation project. Given this, your support is probably better directed at the original rehabilitation and research scheme next door.
Lighthouse The lighthouse at Ras Nungwi is still in operation, although it is not open to visitors. As it is a designated strategic point, photographing the lighthouse is officially not allowed either, as the marines on guard may point out.
Shopping There are several small shops in Nungwi village (n NUSHOP 5º43.673'S; 39º17.614'E), where you'll find an array of cheap souvenirs, such as carvings, paintings and jewellery, as well as essential items.
Head inland across the football pitch behind Cholo's, and you'll first come to a neat building on your right, one half of which is the well-equipped Nungwi School computer room where email and internet services are readily available, while the other half is Choices, a souvenir shop which also sells swimwear. A few steps further on, there is a small parade of shops. Here, the Pink Rose Salon advertises 'we prepare hair', Jambo Brother Shopping Centre offers a mixed bag of goods, an anonymous cosmetic shop does limited trade, and the Nungwi Supermarket is a veritable Aladdin's den of imported luxuries from toothpaste and toiletries to chocolate and Pringles.
Taking the road deeper into the village, there's another internet access point, the California Foto Store for film processing, the New Nungwi Salon where the brave can have a bikini wax, and the local-style Jambo Mixed Shop. Behind the last is the Ahsanna Dispensary for villagers.
South Beach has a smattering of small curio and snack shops, whilst beach traders parade the sand with boards covered in mirrored sunglasses, beaded jewellery and cold drinks. Amaan Bungalows Souvenir Emporium has a reasonable selection of knick-knacks whilst opposite Langi Langi, Mr Alibaba and his sons, Abdul and Suleiman, sell everything from kangas to cold drinks, postcards and tours. The post box outside their shop offers a twice-daily mail collection for those all-important postcards home.
Henna tattoos and hair-braiding Temporary henna tattoos are de rigueur in Nungwi. Painted onto your skin by friendly local ladies, as you lie under their makeshift palm shades on the beach, they seem to mark a rite of passage in the backpacker fraternity. As elsewhere on Zanzibar, the beach and bars are full of people with vaguely Arabic or Celtic-style rings round their biceps. Many clearly believe they look cool; but be warned, the henna can badly stain bed linen, which naturally annoys the hotel owners. For all-out African beach chic, hair-braiding services are also available by the same ladies, along with basic beach massages.